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The Ones That Got Away 

Before they -- the girls -- got there, most of the talk had been of past or future fish. Except for when Billy had said something about a man's wife, and someone said, "I read somewhere that the average male has a dirty thought every six seconds." And Billy came right back with, "Except at our ages. Then it's every 12 seconds."

Inside the trailer's big room were two different light bulbs, one giving off a light-blue color, the other a splashy yellow. And under the uneven lights there were lots of chairs and a big table with a plate of steak bones and gristle being saved for someone's dog. And next to the dishes dripping from new wash, three bottles of dwindling Jim Beam and one of Crown Royal and various soft drinks and mixes.

A man who'd been napping in the back stumbled into the room. "I demand to know where you've been!" someone shouted. "I demand to know where I've been!" the sleeper shouted back.

There had been fishing on this day, and some had been brought into the boats, though the best fishing seen all day was a porpoise who got into a school of mullet and came up and thrashed its tail around, and everywhere was the flash and flare of stunned and scattering fish.

And there would be more fishing tomorrow and hopefully enough fish to distract from the brutal sun. But tonight was for meat and liquor. Baked potatoes and Little Debbies on the side.

Plus the stories, poured out through the amplifiers that hide in old men's throats. The story that got told over and over was the one about Billy diving in after his rod and reel. He had laid the rod and reel down to step to the front of the boat and ease his bladder. But his left foot had knocked the rod and reel overboard and with a yelp on his lips and phallus in hand, Billy had gone in after. Looked a lot like Greg Louganis, an eyewitness said.

That's the way things were going when the girls got there.

Nobody expected them. The three of them showed up with boys their own age, twentysomething. Somebody knew somebody and it was time for a drink. The girl's escorts hung back, shy or maybe just amused.

Most of the old men began to show off as if they still had something to say, still had something to give, to women this age. Performing a reenactment of prouder times, when women of this same age -- for whatever reason women ever find -- feigned interest in their male jokes and jobs.

"Turn around! Turn around!" one guy said to the smallest girl. "I want to see how a pair of jeans that tight can manage to get a name sewn on them."

The small one said she was engaged, but wore no ring. Her fiance had given her a simulated ring, which she hated but kept. He'd have to get her another.

"My future ex-wife," Billy kept calling her after he pulled her onto his lap.

The biggest girl was a tanned Mississippi blonde with a laugh like someone stepping on a dog's toy. She was trying hard to be the queen of 'em all. If someone said something nasty to her, she'd laugh that laugh and say something nasty right back.

It went on, the drinking and the jokes. Until the old trailer began to fill up with a feeling of disbelief. The slow removal of the impossibility of it all. Could that be suspended and, if so, would it sink or save the moment? The moment of contact between the stretched and slack on one side, the taut and tight on the other.

For some reason, the women seemed to enjoy it all. Maybe they'd been drinking, maybe they were half-hypnotized by all the desire that bubbled up everywhere and manifested itself in a roomful of flattery.

One of the women was a junior high teacher. "Y'all are worse than my freshmen!" She squealed happily.

Some of the old men had stayed out of it. They sat in front of the muted TV and just kept teasing one another about shirt colors and who hold tightest to his money. Ignoring the girls.

At last, the stories and wisecracks began to be repeated and some of the sparkle began to seep from the room.

Then, as suddenly as they'd come, the girls were leaving, flinging out goodbyes like Carnival riders flinging beads and taking the night's fantasy with them. And when they were gone, the room felt like an emptied room, a defeated room.

And the trailer lapsed into a post-coital tiredness. Those who were staying in other trailers got up to leave and others headed for the bunkbeds. Three or four stayed on in the lounge chairs and recapped things in whiskey-loud voices.

"Man, if their boyfriends hadn't been around, we mighta got something started. That teacher. And that little one. She had yes written all over them jeans."

"I once heard an old comedian say that old age is when you can't take 'Yes' for an answer."

Everyone laughed at the truth of that idea and then the next thing said was about having to be up early to kill fish and everyone said good night. The trailer became very quiet and, after a little while, the only thing to be heard was the snores of excited sleep.

click to enlarge The man of yesterday is not the man of today. And vice versa.
  • The man of yesterday is not the man of today. And vice versa.


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